Endless energy from the sun looked like a long-term solution for running our homes. But now the state has pulled the plug on the subsidies that made panels affordable for many. What happens now?

Sit back, relax, and read this story with an untroubled conscience: it has been created on a laptop and mobile phone powered entirely by the rays of the sun. This feat would surely astound the most idealistic Greek philosopher or Victorian entrepreneur. It would confirm their wildest hopes for humanity’s progress. Perhaps they would be even more amazed that it was possible via a coalition of Chinese companies, British roofers and local councils. Oh, and government support, which is set to be abruptly withdrawn.

The power comes from 16 black Ja solar panels that were fitted to the roof of my home in August. Together, these panels, each the size of a coffee tabletop, have a capacity of 4kW, enough to meet the energy needs of an average family home. Today, a gloomy autumnal moment, they have generated 4.403kWh. It hardly sounds impressive – it’s enough power for a couple of loads of washing – but collectively it represents a revolution. Solar hasn’t changed my life, but it has shifted my perceptions. A little monitor on my desk tells me how much electricity I am generating. I’m acutely aware of the scarcity of energy, the rarity of unbroken sunshine and changing path of the sun. In August, rays hit my panels at 8.30am and an image of a green finger materialised on my monitor, urging me to switch on appliances. Now it doesn’t appear until 10.30am and so we delay putting on the washing machine. We have toddlers around the house all day, so solar suits us: we time the dishwasher for daylight hours and the TV tends to be on more during the day than at night. If I’m working from home, I charge laptops and phones around midday, too. Solar’s drawback is that most power is generated in daylight hours, when people tend to be at work, and there’s currently no affordable battery technology to store the energy you generate. But that energy is not wasted: it goes into the national grid, and solar owners are paid for what they produce.

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Source: Guardian Environment